In the film series “Back to the Future,” the character Doc Brown predicted a different way of life — unconventional by the standards of 1980s America — when he powered up his trusty DeLorean time machine with garbage.
That idea stuck with the team behind Vashon-based Impact Bioenergy, a manufacturer of systems that convert organic food waste into usable energy and fertilizer, Community Engagement Officer Srirup Kumar said. Last Thursday, the company managed to fuel a hybrid sedan with fuel derived from food waste, able to travel about half a mile per pound. They took the car for a successful test drive last week, a significant milestone several years in the making for the startup.
“When they’re actually fueling that DeLorean with food waste, you know when Doc throws in a few things, it reminds me of that, and that was kind of our original inspiration,” said Kumar. “Because it’s actually possible. This isn’t something in the future.”ADVERTISEMENTVolume 0%
Impact Bioenergy first unveiled their anaerobic digester — a system that can produce biogas derived from food waste broken down by bacteria, which can be treated and used to generate energy — last spring. And what can’t be turned into fuel can help fertilize gardens.
King County has been producing renewable biofuel suitable for commercial vehicles since 2018 at the South Treatment Plant in Renton. It’s an extension of work that started decades ago converting methane to natural gas. The county has been purifying and selling renewable natural gas for longer than any other wastewater facility in the country, offering a substitute for fossil-fuel derived natural gas typically brought through local pipelines, no drilling required. Impact Bioenergy is taking a similar approach to create its own biofuel but with certified organic food waste, stored above ground in tanks, using a process to separate methane released from digestion to power a Honda Civic that runs on natural gas.
They’re branding it as organic, renewable natural gas — that’s ORNG, pronounced “orange.”
“It’s kind of a different class of fuel that we’ve developed and now have brought to market,” Kumar said. Soon, islanders will be able to purchase it in five or 10-gallon propane cylinders for use in vehicles capable of running on natural gas or for other functions, though getting it to retail at island businesses or beyond is still a ways out.
There are a variety of potential applications for the byproduct created by Impact’s on-site anaerobic digester, Kumar added. He said Impact is aiming high, hoping that one day islanders will be able to pick-up and swap cylinders filled with biofuel out at the plant, where they can also purchase probiotic plant food. They would also like to provide the biofuel as a propane substitute on a delivery basis for homes on Vashon that may be off of the gas grid, powering their trucks with the same fuel they’ll be supplying to their customers.